With the start of the 117th Congress this week, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a senior member of the House Committees on Judiciary, Budget, and Homeland Security, has reaffirmed her quest for legislation that could eventually provide reparations for slavery victims.
On Monday, January 4, 2021, Jackson Lee re-introduced H.R. 40, a bill that would fund a committee to explore whether Black Americans should receive reparations for slavery.
While it does not directly introduce payments, the Commission would study racial inequities and policy solutions.
“In short, the Commission aims to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African-Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day,” stated Jackson Lee.
The Congresswoman also serves as the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
“The commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long-delayed process of atonement for slavery.”
Under H.R. 40, the Commission would comprise members appointed by the White House and both Congress chambers.
The bill has had increased support with 147 co-sponsors in the House, all Democrats.
Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Republicans in the Senate have indicated strong opposition to taking the measure up in that Chamber, the Georgia runoff elections count as a huge step toward getting the bill passed.
Two Senate seats are at stake in Georgia, with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock squaring off against Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
“The impact of slavery and its vestiges continues to affect African Americans and indeed all Americans in communities throughout our nation,” Jackson Lee remarked.
“This legislation is intended to examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies. Since the initial introduction of this legislation, its proponents have made substantial progress in elevating the discussion of reparations and reparatory justice at the national level and joining the mainstream international debate on the issues.”
Jackson Lee noted that some have “tried to deflect” the importance of these conversations by focusing on individual monetary compensation.
“The real issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy of slavery that still infects current society. Through legislation, resolutions, news, and litigation, we are moving closer to making more strides in the movement toward reparations,” Jackson Lee said.
The Texas Congresswoman noted that she expects more co-sponsors during the new Congress.
“Today, there are more people at the table — more activists, more scholars, more CEO’s, more state and local officials, and more Members of Congress,” she declared.
“However, despite this progress and the election of the first American President of African descent, the legacy of slavery lingers heavily in this nation. While we have focused on the social effects of slavery and segregation, its continuing economic implications remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis.”
Jackson Lee continued:
“These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in the African American community today, such as education, healthcare, and criminal justice policy, including policing practices. The call for reparations represents a commitment to entering a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present-day conditions in our community and American society.
“I believe that H.R. 40 is a crucial piece of legislation because it goes beyond exploring the economic implications of slavery and segregation.
“It is a holistic bill in the sense that it seeks to establish a commission to also examine the moral and social implications of slavery.
“In short, the Commission aims to study the impact of slavery and to address continuing disparities in the African American community and discrimination against the African American community, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation.
“After its study, the Commission would offer proposals concerning the long-term impact of slavery and bring about solutions to these ongoing disparities in the African American Community.”